Fred Swaniker is a bit of a legend.
At only 43 years old, he has accomplished more than most people can claim in a lifetime. Fred founded multiple organizations (including GLA) before the age of 40. He has been acknowledged by President Obama for his contributions to leadership, entrepreneurship, and fostering sustainable economic growth in Africa. Bonafide TED fellow? Check. (Watch his powerful TED Talk on leadership in Africa here.)
This past spring, TIME selected Fred as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People of 2019, where he was honored alongside other pioneers, leaders, icons, and artists who are making big change in one way or another. (Think: Lady Gaga, Pope Francis, and Mark Zuckerberg.)
We sat down with Fred and and picked his brain about leadership, ethical entrepreneurship, and what's next!
Fred, congratulations again on being honored!
In the Time 100 article written about you, Mo Ibrahim wrote "Fred understood that the key to success was not about leading the youth along a preordained path, but about allowing them to become authors of their own stories." How do you see GLA students and alumni in your vision for developing young people as leaders of the next generation, alongside ALA, ALU and ALN students and alumni?
Leadership is critical everywhere, not only in Africa. GLA is exposing thousands of young people around the world to global challenges and helping them to develop the problem solving and leadership skills necessary for solving them. Learning has to go beyond the classroom and textbooks, and I am confident in GLA’s ability to cultivate critical thinking, collaboration mindsets, global perspectives, and boldness in its students
through the experiences it offers. GLA students, as much as any members of the AL Group, will become the leaders of tomorrow. The goal is to spark passion and curiosity in young people, and to equip them with the tools they need to pursue those interests impactfully.
How do you see Global Leadership Adventures fitting into the path that led you to the Time 100 list in 2019? Did you feel it was a contributor on the steps to success with the African Leadership Academy and your other projects on the continent?
The TIME 100 recognition came as a complete shock. However, I know that I am just a face, a representative of a whole team of people - at ALA, GLA, ALU, and ALX – doing the transformative work that was worthy of the TIME recognition. Co-founding GLA gave me the confidence to continue as an entrepreneur. It taught me the importance of building a great team; emphasized the power of giving young people global perspectives (which I have carried into my subsequent ventures); taught me how to scale a business; and every year develops more world-class change leaders. I think TIME 100 honors this impact, of which GLA’s work is a major part.
"[GLA] taught me the importance of building a great team; emphasized the power of giving young people global perspectives"
Looking at GLA now, has the organization lived up to the hopes and dreams you had for it when you started it all those years ago? What makes you most proud (GLA-related)?
GLA has exceeded all expectations. It has grown into a thriving business that touches people in all corners of the world. As an entrepreneur, building something that is bigger and more lasting than yourself is extremely fulfilling.
You've had a hand in founding several incredible organizations: ALA (African Leadership Academy), GLA, ALN (African Leadership Network), ALU (African Leadership University)...What's next for you? Any new projects in the works?
I am still focusing on making ALU the best and most innovative university it can be. However, I am now spending much of my time in Nairobi, Kenya, where we have started a new program called ALX. ALX draws on the lessons learned and best practices developed at ALA, GLA, ALU, etc. but aims to deliver our leadership development at scale. We want ALX to become Africa’s (and the world’s) premier lifelong learning and
talent platform – convening top talent, offering opportunities to learn and grow, connecting people with great jobs, and ultimately investing in our people. I am excited about the scalability and accessibility of this program, the powerful network we will create, and the potential to catalyze many new leaders on the Continent.
How would you advise young people who want to "be the change" but aren't sure where to start?
Find an opportunity that challenges and excites you start learning. Finding opportunities to solve problems and take on responsibility early in your career will pay dividends later on.
Want to learn more about Fred? Read TIME's article on Fred here! Or, you can see how he fits into the GLA family with our Founder's Video.